Transport minister Keith Brown is a sensible, no-nonsense minister who has been handed a political timebomb.
When he signed off the contract for the central Borders railway earlier this month he should have done so, not in Newtongrange, but in Galashiels. That would have allowed him to travel over the two apologies for trunk roads which link Cumbria and Northumberland with Edinburgh – the A7 and A68.
The A68 is not so much a road as a rough passage through the country.
For miles its surface seems to have been chosen to create the maximum amount of road roar possible. There are stretches where water pours off fields and lies on the road, creating flooding in autumn and ice in winter. The A68 is a patched mess of joints and ridges which could easily feature in a modern version of Tam O’ Shanter’s “waters, slaps and styles”. It needs completely upgraded, or at the very least entirely resurfaced.
But so much money is being expended on the new branch line that none will be left for that purpose. At present it is costed at £10million per mile, but without a shadow of doubt that figure is a gross underestimate.
The vast majority of Borderers won’t use the railway and for that majority the road network will continue to break up, although, of course, motorists and commercial users will continue to pay through high taxation to use it.
Politics is about priorities. In this case, as in its fanatical belief in the efficacity of wind machines, the SNP has got its priorities wrong.